Mozilla rolls back development clock on Thunderbird 3.0

Mozilla Messaging Inc. has taken the unusual step of turning back the development clock, and will rename an impending beta of Thunderbird 3.0 as a third alpha build, according to one of its developers.

Rather than dub the forthcoming version of Thunderbird 3.0 as Beta 1, which was the plan, Mozilla Messaging will instead call it Alpha 3, said Dan Mosedale, a former Firefox programmer who joined the e-mail offshoot in January.

Among Mozilla’s reasons for renaming the preview, said Mosedale, was a fear of potentially negative reviews. “Calling something a beta is likely to trigger a bunch of extra press attention that we’re not yet in a position to deal with,” said Mosedale in an entry to his blog on Tuesday. “Some number [of] reviews will be inappropriately pre-judging [Thunderbird 3.0] based on its current state. In the best case, this would be a distraction.”

Thunderbird 3.0, an open-source e-mail client that’s the primary project of Mozilla Messaging, has been available in alpha for several months. According to a tentative schedule , Beta 1 was to enter “code freeze” at the end of September, with Beta 2 following in November and the first release candidate in late January.

That schedule will now have to be changed to retool Beta 1 as Alpha 3, and recast Beta 2 as Beta 1.

Mosedale listed other reasons for reverting to alpha status. “We ended up not landing a bunch of stuff for this [Beta 1] milestone that we had initially hoped to,” he said. “[And] there is still a lot of highly user-visible feature work left to do.” Among the latter, he called out an overhaul of the e-mail client’s tabs, additional work on viewing messages, and calendar integration.

After acknowledging that the work so far was not up to typical beta standards, Mosedale said it would be a mistake to tag the impending release with such a label. “The confluence of these things together makes us think that we’ll do better to ship this as an alpha and not call down the extra attention that a beta will bring just yet.”

Mozilla Messaging grew out of a call last year by Mozilla Corp.’s then- CEO Mitchell Baker to ditch Thunderbird to focus on Firefox, the company’s big breadwinner. In July 2007, Baker said that Thunderbird should be cut loose “to determine its own destiny.”

Last September, Mozilla Corp. seeded the new venture with $3 million in start-up funds and tapped David Ascher to lead the venture.

Thunderbird 3.0 Alpha 2 , codenamed Shredder, can be downloaded in versions for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux from Mozilla Messaging’s site.

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